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Me & My Valentine, sorry, Partner

By The Drum, Administrator

February 14, 2003 | 7 min read

Still laughing after eight years: David (left) and Kevin (right) enjoying the shoot for the Dunfermline TV campaign.

Kevin Bird

The advertising world is littered with great creative people whose eyes, late on a Friday night in the bar of a fancy hotel, at yet another fancy awards ceremony, glaze over as they tell you all about the great, great, guy they used to work with.

They tell you about the fantastic work they did together. What a great team they were. What a laugh they had. And how it’s never, ever, been quite the same with anyone else.

In 1994 I was stuck in the less glamorous end of the advertising world. Scraping the occasional nomination for best use of really, really, really, small space. Frank, my copywriter, had just announced he was off to Australia, when I was offered a dream job. Did I want to teach 15- to 16-year-old American girls to play soccer in Pennsylvania? I had just finished filling in the SFA coaching forms when David rang from London to ask if I fancied working together.

We met that Sunday afternoon in a bar on the Great Western Road. Spent 20 minutes comparing books and three hours on cooking, lager, Manchester United and Sunderland. Then we decided to give it a shot.

In our three years at Riley we quickly learned that if we were to make anything of what little creative opportunities there were, we’d have to make our own strategies and write our own briefs. This would pay dividends later.

On accounts like the Daily Record and the Law Society we produced good, solid work. We won the Toyota National Dealer account, Riley’s biggest ever win. Then we did a little campaign for the Territorial Army that suddenly put us on the map. It was time to move on.

Yellow M seemed like the perfect opportunity. David and I spent five years making it one of the most exciting and most talked about agencies in the country. Finding out, in the words of a well-spoken solicitor, that “you’ve been shafted” is one of the most disappointing things I’ve ever experienced.

But out of that experience came family.

The four people who represented everything that was good about Yellow M, Ian, Jill, David and myself, decided we’d stick together. The clients who could come with us all came with us. I think that says a lot. New clients are coming thick and fast, and they all come for the same reasons. They like what we do and they like the way we do it.

David and I like what we do. In fact, we love what we do. It’s why, as a team, it works. David is the communicator. The articulate one. Brilliant strategically and always able to see the bigger picture. As a writer he has the uncanny knack of turning a huge chunk of information into simple, clear, readable copy. His ability to keep everything so simple often proves invaluable. He gets the best out of people by making them think harder, myself included.

He would have probably made a good art director as well, because he thinks so visually. I think we both do. And this, I believe, is our main strength as a team and has resulted in some of our best work. In a nutshell, it’s easy and fun to work with David. I’d have to be pretty stupid to ever jeopardise that.

Finding someone you can do ads with is difficult enough. Finding someone you can actually enjoy doing ads with is nigh on impossible. I consider myself very lucky. If it hadn’t been for David I could have been teaching 15- to16-year-old American girls to play soccer. But I try not to think about that ...

David Isaac

Wow. For eight years I’ve been working with Kevin and, bloody hell, how things have changed. Since working with Kevin we’ve started two agencies, Yellow M and family, won one or two awards, had five children (3-2 to Kevin) and Manchester United have won the Premiership six times. Oh, and the Champions’ League.

We started working together in August 1994 at Riley Advertising. I left a busy agency in London, an office overlooking the Thames and found myself in a deathly quiet room in Glasgow, an alley for a view and a passionate Sunderland fan (until he dies) for an art director. Culture shockeroonie.

Riley gave us great opportunities but the only way we thought we’d move out of that quiet office was by doing great ads. We’re not really the type to do the social thing and we figured our work would talk better than we ever could.

Kevin is full of ideas. Hundreds of them. And he’s a good writer too. While I’ll be looking at the same idea over and over again, Kevin will be filling yet another layout pad. I was relieved to read once of a highly successful London team who had a similar working relationship – there’s hope for me yet.

Like most creatives from the North East of England, he’s very down to earth; one of the reasons why so many good teams come from that part of the world. Kevin talks straight, tells it like it is, and, if you stray off the path of what you’re trying to say, he’ll tell you so.

Over the eight years we’ve developed a way of working together. We’ll sit down, talk absolute rubbish and laugh at our own jokes before getting onto the serious stuff of cracking the work. Laughter is very important to us – it’s a good way of relieving stress and stops tensions getting too high. At the risk of sounding trite, I’m extremely lucky. Kevin’s a great partner to work with and it’s a relationship you could easily take for granted. But we wouldn’t ever.

I know he’s been asked by other copywriters to work with him. As I have by other art directors. But we’ve both seen too many good teams split up for the wrong reasons (usually money) and when they do they never seem as happy. Kevin and I have always taken the longer view. We’ll get there in the end.

One day it dawned on us just how far we’d got. We were doing the election campaign for the Conservatives with Yellow M. Kevin and I were having a meeting in the House of Commons with William Hague and there was a moment when we looked at each other and both thought, “What the fuck are we doing here?”

And now, with our own agency, family, thriving and a clutch of awards, I suppose we got “there”. Now we just need to get somewhere else. Together, of course.


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